Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Paying it forward to yourself

Manitobans think they are good at saving, but some still live on the edge

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Like a lot of people, Connan Friesen is looking at the coming month as a new chapter. The advent of the school year represents a new journey for the 22-year-old who is starting his first year of university this fall.

As it turns out, many Canadians also view the new school year as the unofficial start of something else: a clean slate for saving.

A recent survey by Tangerine -- Canada's most popular online and mobile bank -- found six in 10 Canadians consider the back-to-school season a fresh start for savings goals.

For Friesen, who has only earned minimum wage throughout his short working life, saving is a luxury he can't afford.

"I have to make more money in the future so I can save," says Friesen, who lives with roommates. "Otherwise, I have been making so little at my past jobs that it's been hard to do. "

Fortunately, someone has been saving on his behalf for university: his mom.

"She's got RESPs, and that's pretty much saved me."

Whether it's for the kids' post-secondary education, retirement or a trip to Disneyland, Manitobans think they are pretty adept at minding their dollars, the Tangerine survey found.

Sixty per cent of Manitobans surveyed graded themselves a B or higher on reaching their savings goals this year. That's compared with the national average of 54 per cent of Canadians.

Furthermore, two-thirds of residents in the Keystone province are optimistic about achieving their future goals for the rest of the year -- as opposed to 48 per cent nationally.

The results are heartening to at least one banker.

"We found, compared to the rest of the country, Manitobans overall thought they were doing better," says Silvio Stroescu, head of deposits and investments at Tangerine, a subsidiary by Scotiabank.

"We prefer to look at the glass being half-full."

That level of optimism is required, otherwise, the other half of the snapshot of Canadians' savings habits could make a banker feel despondent.

"One big theme is many Canadians rate themselves a C or lower, which basically means they haven't been saving enough to get on track," he says.

In some cases, 40 per cent of those surveyed say they haven't saved anything.

"Even more concerning is that more than a quarter of Canadians could not handle more than $500 in additional expenses and they would have to go into debt if that were to happen," he says. "That speaks to the fact that people may have a shortage of emergency-fund savings for when life throws its curveballs."

Ken Brickley, a father of three from Kenora, Ont., knows all about living on the edge financially. The 42-year-old heavy-equipment operator works in Alberta and is now on firm financial ground.

But it wasn't always like that.

"I lived payday to payday, but that changed about six or seven years ago when I got into my 30s," he says.

Now he and his wife, Shandy, are avid savers -- well, not so much right now as they're in the midst of building a home.

"It's kind of beaten up our savings."

But he still engages in good financial housekeeping.

"Get on a budget. That's the hardest part," he says, crediting this exercise to getting his money on track.

While a simple concept to grasp, unfortunately, it's much more difficult to put into practice for a lot of people, Stroescu says.

But that's not because budgeting requires an extraordinary amount of know-how.

"Instead, it's overcoming that inertia -- to go from doing nothing to actually doing something about it."

Sara Kushnir, a financial adviser with Assiniboine Credit Union, says budgeting involves a certain level of ongoing commitment to make it successful -- often more than most people realize.

That's why so many try and quit a short time later, she says.

"In many cases, we feel we are not in control of our budget because we do not really understand where our money is going," she says.

Getting a feel for where the cash is flowing requires monthly monitoring -- if not weekly inspections, she says.

"Once we have a clear idea of our actual budget, then we can determine realistic savings goals," she says. "Without this, saving money can feel impossible and either we give up, or we continue saving and end up adding debt at the same time."

Yet taking the first step toward achieving financial goals often requires a bit of inspiration.

To that end, Tangerine recently launched on its website a section called Forward Thinking, which includes articles and personal stories about how to achieve savings success.

"The focus is to share stories, articles and other information about personal-finance topics with the objective of inspiring people to take action," Stroescu says.

Of course, many of us aren't acting alone. We have families, so it's important everyone -- particularly our spouses -- are also inspired to participate.

"Both partners need to buy in -- which goals are important to one spouse more than the other and what are common goals," Kushnir says. "Sometimes, these revelations happen in the privacy of home or with a trusted financial adviser."

Stroescu says no matter how we go about successfully saving -- for whatever the goal -- it boils down to being able to pay our future selves.

"The premise is to see our future selves as a bill that needs to be paid today," he says. "If we make those payments to our future selves automatic, then it's a lot easier to overcome that inertia and take action."

Sometimes referred to as paying yourself first, this strategy ensures savings are set aside on a regular basis automatically, so you can't hum and haw your way to spending the funds on something else.

Brickley can certainly attest to the power of paying it forward, to yourself.

After starting his 30s with nothing to show for it, he's now got substantial RRSPs and TFSAs.

"Things changed for me when (I realized) if I keep living this way, life is going to get hard in my 40s and 50s," he says.

"And I really didn't miss a couple of hundred a paycheque."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 30, 2014 B12

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